Please keep in mind that this is a spectrum and all individuals are different. The following is a list of common experiences of verbal individuals on the autism spectrum of average to superior intelligence.
A STUDENT WITH AUTISM:
* Cannot learn from a teacher they don’t like.
* Gets along very well with adults or younger children.*May interpret language very literally and misunderstand the intent of an instruction or assignment. Won’t ask for clarification because they don’t know they’ve misunderstood your instructions. May say yes when they mean no. May say no when they mean yes.
* Are not mentally ill. ASD is not a mental illness, but people with ASD often suffer anxiety and depression. It is not surprising that living a life where you are constantly corrected, reprimanded, rejected, misunderstood and bullied can lead to anxiety and depression.
* Is often anxious in school, thinking about school, or waiting to return to school from break. School is a place where sensory overload, combined with the speed and volume of social and academic demands, are often just too much for our children to manage. A comprehensive occupational therapy assessment to identify sensory difference, a psycho-educational assessment to understand how he learns and what she needs can contribute to better accommodations and reduced anxiety.
* Can be distracted by sensory issues—peers are too close, lights are flickering and are too bright, the din of a busy classroom prevents focus and concentration.
* Can be terrific at reciting the facts but can have difficulty applying them.
* Have processing difference which may mean they can do half of the school work in twice the time. This does NOT mean they are cognitively slower. In fact, often, they are very bright. Consideration of processing speed is essential to avoid of minimize anxiety. Children who are constantly rushed along can feel on edge.
* May zone out, shut down, cry, rock, hum, listen to music or doodle if overwhelmed by sensory, social, or academic expectations. Figure out the strengths and needs of the student to prevent any of this from happening in the first place.
* Commonly have challenges in attention, organization, time management, and starting their work can impact grades in even the brightest student. Teach strategies to manage those executive functioning differences.
* Can find it overwhelming to produce written work—even those with beautiful handwriting or who are gifted communicators. Schools should provide assistive technology before language-based work starts to contribute to school avoidance, sleep issues, and clinical anxiety.
* Must be taught how to identify and appropriately respond to their emotions. Teach Mindfulness, the Five-Point Scale, Zones of Regulation—embed in the curriculum via the IEP and use at home as well.
* Can be motivated and calmed by engaging in areas of high interest. Use those interests to connect the relevance of new topics or areas of study. She loves dinosaurs? Create math sheets with Sally the Stegosaurus. She’s into anime art? Offer essay topics related to the origins of anime or biographical profiles of prominent anime artists.
* Have difficulty doing more than one thing at a time. When homework and projects pile up, students can melt down. Make sure staff can help to prioritize work, reduce the volume required to demonstrate mastery, and assist in creating a schedule that will help them get through crunch time.
* Are often clumsy, and may have impaired fine or gross motor skills—or both. This means it can take longer to do everything: packing up at the end of class, getting ready for gym, eating lunch, cleaning up after art class, manipulating test tubes and other science class equipment. Support this with Occupational therapy, IEP accommodations that pair the student with a mature peer, and staff who will step in when needed to help keep him or her on track. Don’t give the students a task unless he has a reasonable chance of success.
* Want friendships but often don’t know how to initiate or maintain conversations. May be able to start a friendship but have a hard time maintaining that relationship. Schools should provide facilitated play opportunities or peer mentors for older students. Include friendship skill training within the IEP via a special program page for social development.
* May not be able to respond to your questions even if they know the answers. Sometimes, slow processing speed is the reasons; other times, it is anxiety.
* Like to know what’s expected of them and what is happening next. Provide visual schedules. Similarly, pair verbal instructions or verbal lessons with visuals of each expectation or step.
* Are often visual learners. Provide models of finished projects so they know what you are expecting.
* Are chronically tired. Kids with ASD have difficulty falling asleep at a typical hour, as their diurnal rhythms can be off by three to four hours. Plan highly engaging activities first thing in the morning.
* Commonly have tummy troubles. If they say they need to use the washroom, let them go and don’t interrogate them. It’s embarrassing enough already.
* May tell you they are sick and ask to go home rather than use the school washroom because of past behavior of fellow students. A peer who stuck his head under a stall or tried to open a stall door can cause long term avoidance of the washroom. Other students cannot tolerate the sensory aspects of the student washroom: the cheap toilet paper, the different height of the toilet seats, the odors.